ALBANY — Local environmental experts voiced their concerns Monday about a proposed ash landfill for a former quarry in Catskill.
Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay, former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck and Catskill-based geologist Paul Rubin led the press conference that took place at 11 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building on State Street.
The speakers and assembled community members said they are worried about the environmental impact of an ash landfill proposed by Wheelabrator Technologies, a company that specializes in renewable energy generated from waste.
Wheelabrator is interested in purchasing 158 acres on Route 9W in Smith’s Landing, including a former quarry owned by Peckham Materials Inc. The company would haul ash from its incinerators in Peekskill, Hudson Falls and Poughkeepsie to the Catskill location and separate the metals from the ash.
Wheelabrator has no plans to burn waste in Catskill.
In addition to working in the environmental field for more than 30 years, Enck also has a personal connection to the issue, she said.
“I grew up in Catskill,” she said. Local residents sought Enck’s assistance in February.
“Virtually no one knew about it even though they started filing paper work with DEC over two years ago,” Enck said.
The project poses a great threat to the environment, Enck said.
“This is a serious environmental threat to the Hudson Valley and the next generation,” she said. “We know that incinerator ash falls in the toxic range of heavy metals and dioxin.”
Wheelabrator disagreed with Enck’s assessment.
The ash byproduct is not harmful, Wheelabrator Director of Communicators and Community Engagement Michelle Nadeau said Friday.
“Energy-from-waste ash is regularly tested by independent laboratories using approved U.S. EPA methods and is routinely found to pass the U.S. EPA toxicity test for waste and, therefore, determined to be a non-hazardous waste, according to NYSDEC and U.S. EPA standards,” Nadeau said.
“The proposed facility will operate in accordance with stringent state and federal environmental standards designed to protect public health and the environment while providing significant long-term economic and environmental benefits to the town and village,” Nadeau said.
Because of the site’s location, the ash is susceptible to leaching, Enck said.
“Every 100 feet there is a fissure on the property,” Enck said. It is inevitable the toxins will leach into groundwater and springs.”
“They use a geomembrane, which is a plastic, to collect leachate,” Rubin said. “It doesn’t last. The community will be left with a toxic metal waste site.”
The site will be returned to its natural state after the landfill has reached its capacity, Wheelabrator Manager of Development Mark Schwartz said in February.
“We can plant indigenous species after,” Schwartz said, adding that these sites are also popular for renewable power after they’ve been used.
The project is the first of its kind, Enck said.
“There has never been a project before where you bring ash into a quarry,” Enck said.
The community is calling on Catskill Town Supervisor Doreen Davis, who did not attend the press conference, to reject the project.
“She has been outsourcing the project to DEC, which is a mistake,” Enck said. “The town should stand up and stop it in its tracks rather than wait seven to eight years for the state to review it.”
Enck does not want to see Catskill stigmatized for hosting a toxic ash dump so close to the Hudson River, she said.
Rubin has researched alternative uses for retired quarries.
On a map he generated to show the features of the landscape and potential pathways for contaminants, Rubin included the alternative for an 80-acre lake.
“We could revitalize Catskill,” Rubin said. “It could be known as something fabulous, instead of a toxic waste dump.”
Other popular quarry repurposing options include hotels, nature parks and amusement parks.
Gallay encouraged residents to get involved.
“For countless reasons, this is a bad project and there are many better alternatives for the site,” Gallay said. “We’re calling on the community to get active and engage their leaders so that, together, we can agree on a better plan for the old quarry than to fill it with toxic ash.”
Residents who want to join the cause can sign a letter to Davis, which currently has signatures from more than 50 environmental and community groups and nearly 100 residents. The letter is being sent to the Catskill Town Board and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
A forum will be held April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Catskill Community Center on Main Street.